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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  September 23, 2012 10:30am-11:00am EDT

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coming up -- will churches lose their tax exempt status if their pastors endorse political candidates? maybe not. >> we believe there should be no government intervention in the pulpit at all. also, vietnamese catholic priests and seminarians grateful to be safe and free in carthage missouri.
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welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. as protests against an anti-islam film spread to more than 20 countries in the muslim world this week, several high-ranking muslim leaders issued strong calls for peace. the grand mufti of saudi arabia condemned last week's deadly attacks on the u.s. consulate in libya as un-islamic but he also said speech defaming the prophet muhammad should be outlawed. here in the u.s., the coptic bishop of los angeles joined leading muslim representatives in denouncing the film and the
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violent response. they said copts and muslims must stand together against extremists in either religion. and in an effort to reach muslim protesters abroad, u.s. muslim groups released videos in arabic and urdu appealing for calm and restraint. in other news, on capitol hill, senator dick durbin convened a hearing on hate crimes, in response to the mass shooting last month at a sikh temple in wisconsin. among those who testified was a young sikh man whose mother was killed in the attack. he urged the government to begin tracking hate crimes against sikhs, as it does for other religions. >> an attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us. meanwhile, in ohio, 16 amish men and women, part of a breakaway group, were found guilty of hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of members of their former community.
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the actions were considered a hate crime because hair holds religious significance for the amish. in rome this week, a harvard professor released new research she says indicates some early christians believed jesus could have been married. professor karen king's analysis centers around a newly unveiled fourth-century scrap of papyrus with the words, "jesus said to them, "my wife." king does not conclude jesus was married but says her finding shows some people might have thought he was. some scholars questioned the document's authenticity. others said it seemed valid to them. both presidential candidates this week issued direct video appeals to faith-based voters. president obama's video came with the launch of a new campaign project called people of faith for obama. >> i'm asking for your support because we have more work to do
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to build an economy where families are values and secure, to expand opportunity and extend compassion and pursue the common good. meanwhile, governor romney's campaign released a video that was played for religious conservatives at the values voter summit in washington last weekend. >> all we ask is that you join us and commit like never before. this election could come down to just one more vote. i ask you to find that one vote, ask one more person to join our campaign. our managing editor kim lawton has been covering the campaigns. kim, what do we know so far from the polls about how faith-based people are dividing? >> reporter: well, of course, it's just a snapshot for right now but there were some new numbers this week that suggested that evangelicals, that all important group for republicans, do seem to be supporting mitt romney at around the same levels
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they supported john mccain, so that's very high, so that's good news for governor romney. catholics seem to be more divided as they were last time around although some new numbers this week suggest that they are leaning more towards obama as they did in the last election. i was surprised to see this week numbers suggesting that mainline protestants, who went principally for john mccain last time around or slightly more for john mccain are -- more of them are leaning towards obama this time around. >> is there any, is there anything at all in the data to suggest that romney's religion is making any difference? >> reporter: well, in these snapshots that we have right now it doesn't appear to be the case. some people had wondered if evangelicals would not be supporting him because he's a mormon and some evangelicals are concerned about that, had raised concerns about voting for a mormon candidate. doesn't appear to be that way, however, people have to get to the polls for it to actually
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matter, you know, turnout is what counts. i was surprised in the video this week that mitt romney released he never once mentioned his mormon faith and some people had suggested that he might be talking about it more. he didn't this week. >> not talking about it perhaps because it is a matter of concern for a lot of evangelical protestants? >> reporter: well, that's what some people are wondering if he just doesn't want to raise it, he doesn't want to raise it. >> and the issue of religious liberty quickly for the catholic leadership. >> reporter: that's something president obama stressed in his video this week. he said i'm firmly committed to religious liberty and always will be. that's an issue that some catholics, particularly in the hierarchy, had been challenging him on. again, it doesn't seem to be hitting the grassroots right now. >> kim lawton, many thanks. amid all the faith-based mobilizing, there are boundaries for many religious organizations. in return for being tax exempt, churches and charities are required to stay out of
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politics. no endorsements, no taxes. some pastors, not all, think any limits on what they can say are unconstitutional, and they are organizing a kind of preach-in to emphasize their freedom. but, as lucky severson reports, the irs may not even be listening. >> you are on board the uss focal point. it is our patrol boat. this is not a pleasure cruise. this is a patrol boat in which we patrol the choppy waters of america's public life looking for the intersection of truth and politics. >> reporter: bryan fischer's program is on 125 radio stations and on television in three states. to say he represents the far right of the christian right is probably not saying enough. but because he works for the american family association, a nonprofit organization, he has to be careful not to endorse or oppose a political candidate, although he's been known to push that line as far as he can. >> we have a lawless president.
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ladies and gentlemen, he reminds me of a juvenile delinquent is really what he reminds me of. he's like a street thug. >> reporter: fischer, a former pastor, has strong views on just about everything, especially the nonprofit statute known as 501c3 of the irs tax code that exempts churches from income and property taxes and prohibits opposing or recommending political candidates. it has been said of you that you push the limit as far as you can. that you won't say go vote against obama, but you come as close as you can. >> i am just observing the bright line that the irs has established. this is what the irs has said, that's the bright line, and i observe that line. >> reporter: do you think that line is unfair? >> absolutely. and it's completely unconstitutional. >> reporter: that view is shared by an increasing number of pastors around the country who are joining an effort called pulpit freedom sunday to challenge the irs. pastor jim garlow of the skyline wesleyan megachurch in la mesa, california, is one of the
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leaders of the movement. >> we believe there should be no government intrusion in the pulpit at all. a pastor should be -- if he wants to endorse or oppose a candidate, and that should be the right a pastor based on the first amendment. freedom of speech and freedom of religion, no governmental intrusion into the pulpit. >> reporter: he says there may be as many as 2,000 pastors joining pulpit freedom sunday this year deliberately flaunting 501c3, by endorsing candidates from the pulpit. it's not illegal, but it could result in their loss of their tax breaks. some pastors will send dvds of those sermons to the irs. but pastor bryan collier of the united methodist church in tupelo, mississippi, with a congregation of about 2,500, won't be joining in. >> it's not something we're going to do, not going to participate in. we're called as the community of faith to do what we're supposed to do, and i think the status that has been afforded to us by the government is a nice bonus, but status or no status, it doesn't change what our mission is.
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i think it has had an alarming impact on the american pulpit. i think pastors have shied away, pastors have been hesitant, pastors aren't sure where the line is, pastors have been intimidated. >> we've never really looked over our shoulder here and said we can't do or we shouldn't do this or advance that program based on some status that's assigned to us. >> reporter: pastor jeffery daniel of the white hill missionary baptist church in tupelo doesn't endorse candidates, but he does seem to be looking over his shoulder. >> i know there are some that feel a little bit bolder and will get more into actually saying we need to get behind these individuals, but i believe there are other ways to do that without creating such big problems for the church. >> reporter: pastor james hull of the mount hope missionary baptist church in taylor, mississippi says, contrary to popular misconception, black churches that he knows of do not endorse political candidates. >> probably the greatest
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politically oriented or inclined preacher in the history of this country, which was dr. martin luther king jr., it is a misnomer to say that black churches have endorsed political candidates. black churches have endorsed political movements. >> we're a people of influence, and that's a lot of weight to carry, and to just come out and say, "hey, we need to get behind this guy." i don't think that's our job. what i think we're supposed to do is inform them about, you know, making sure that they do vote and that they understand what's at stake. >> what i will do on pulpit freedom sunday is simply to outline what are some of the key biblical issues in this year's election, and then who are some of the candidates in opposition to biblical truth? who are some of the candidates running in support of biblical truth? as a follower of jesus christ, i want to encourage people to vote for people who would follow biblical truth. >> reporter: do you have any idea how many churches have been
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audited, how many churches have lost their nonprofit status? >> there's not a single church that's lost its nonprofit status in 58 years. >> reporter: in fact, at least one church briefly lost its nonprofit status in 1992 in binghamton, new york, after the church purchased a full page ad opposing presidential nominee bill clinton. it is difficult to know about audits because the irs doesn't disclose them, but in the vast majority of cases the agency simply issues a warning. so then why is pulpit freedom sunday necessary? >> because an unjust law is still on the books. it is unconstitutional, many believe, and if it's unconstitutional and that law stands, it needs to be removed. >> reporter: marcus owens worked for the irs for 25 years. he was the head of the exempt organization division. owens says many people don't understand that the 501c3 law was created by congress, not the irs.
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>> so the congress has on at least two occasions subsequent to the enactment of 1954 of the original prohibition, reaffirmed and increased the penalty on intervention in political campaigns. >> reporter: so if these pastors got a gripe, they should take it to their congressman or congresswoman? >> that's how one changes the law in a democracy, yes. >> reporter: it turns out the most likely outcome for the pulpit freedom sunday movement may be only the national attention it gets. that's because the law requires that an irs regional commissioner authorize any church audits. since the irs reorganized a few years ago, there are no longer regional commissioners, so there is no one to authorize an audit, and there won't be until congress rewrites the law. >> that effectively shut down every irs church investigation other than criminal investigations. the efforts by pulpit freedom
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sunday to goad the irs into an audit of churches simply will not occur. >> reporter: the movement at this point may be more symbolic than anything. but that doesn't diminish the conviction of those like bryan fisher, who see the law as an attack on their freedom of religion and speech. >> there would be no united states of america if ameri pastors had not had the freedom from their pulpits to declare the truth as they saw it. so i think a key part of reclaiming america's future is to turn our pastors loose so they're able to declare without any hesitation boldly, as they are prompted to do, the values that they find in the scriptures. >> reporter: pastor hull thinks pulpit freedom sunday is a bad idea, that it will do more to divide the country than to bring it together. >> this pulpit sunday, it's being couched in fear about what they are taking away from us -- they're taking away our liberties and they're taking away our country, that somehow or other there's this big boogie man who's trying to take away the country. from whom? whose country is it?
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>> reporter: pulpit freedom sunday is scheduled take place october 7. for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm lucky severson in tupelo, mississippi. we have a happy story today about the settlement of vietnamese catholic priests and seminarians in carthage, in rural southwest missouri. every year, the priests there invite vietnamese from all over the u.s. to come for four days of reunions, retreats and celebrations. and do they come! this summer, as judy valente reports, more than 50,000 vietnamese americans converged on carthage to see each other and give thanks for their new lives. ♪
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>> father basil doan is the pastor of two catholic churches in this rural stretch of western missouri. several times a week, he makes the 50-mile round trip between his parishes along these quiet country roads. >> no traffic. peaceful, yeah. >> reporter: to keep himself alert, he sometimes sings in his native language, vietnamese. foreign-born priests are becoming a familiar presence in many rural communities, and, increasingly, those priests are vietnamese. father basil's order, the congregation of the mother co-redemptrix, has 500 seminarians in ho chi minh city, the kind of numbers american orders haven't seen since the 1950s. seminaries and convents there can't accommodate all of the men and women who want to enter religious life, so many end up here in america.
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carthage, missouri, a small, largely protestant town, may seem like an unlikely site for the order's u.s. headquarters. the vietnamese priests moved here beginning in the mid-1970s because an american religious order was moving out due to declining numbers. at the time, catholics were under threat in vietnam, and priests had to go into hiding or flee. but somehow this congregation managed to survive. >> we were born in 1952, so we're very young, and we're proud to say our founder is a vietnamese priest. you know how most religious communities enter into vietnam from other country, but we proudly say we are the one that was founded by a vietnamese priest for the vietnamese people. >> in recent years, as vietnam has opened to the west, vietnamese catholics have regained a measure of religious freedom. even so, the government still
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restricts church activities, and in some areas catholics are barred from holding government jobs, which helps explain the deep devotion of vietnamese catholics living in the united states. thousands journey to carthage each year for the marian days festival, a four-day pilgrimage to give thanks to the virgin mary for the safety and freedom they feel they enjoy in america. >> it's like a divine providence that we happened to be right in the middle of the united states. everybody can come over here, you know, just the whole family gathering. but the second part is just the spiritual side of things, because through the year there's all this hardship, working, and it's just a week to come here just to pray and listen to conferences to nourish their spiritual side. >> about 500 people came in 1978, the first year of the festival. today, between 50,000 and 60,000 people attend, making it one of the largest ethnic festivals in the u.s. the centerpiece of the pilgrimage is this statue of the virgin mary, one of only six like it in the world.
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vietnamese mothers usually take the lead in passing on the faith, and this has translated into a deep devotion within the community to the blessed mother. sister maria nguyen, a benedictine sister from kansas, says many families also credit mary with helping them escape communism. >> they thank for all things that mary and god have done for them for the past year. and, then they ask mary to continue to journey, to be with them for this coming year, for the future. >> the marion days festival allows vietnamese priests and sisters serving in america to reconnect with their culture. asians and asian americans make up only 4% of the american catholic church, but account for 10% of vocations, most of them vietnamese, leading one observer to call vietnamese priests "the new irish." father basil's story is typical.
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he says he first began thinking about the priesthood while serving in the south vietnamese army. >> when i was in army, i felt that i am going to die. and then in my heart, i just, you know, maybe the god's holy spirit inspire me and i just raise up my heart, my mind to god, and i pray. i pray and then god protect me and i escape from mine explosion. i heard the explosion, and i fell down, and i didn't get any injury. my friend behind me got hit, and the other one got hit, too. and i think that's a sign of god's providence, that he wanted me to be a future priest. he protect me from harm. >> father basil remained in vietnam for four years after the fall of saigon, trying to keep out of the eye of communist officials. >> some people say, "you're a very good person, maybe you can
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become a priest." but in that time, in communist rule, nobody have to, have had to fulfill that dream. >> this is the first time father basil has been in charge of predominantly american parishes, ones where most of the members are farmers or retirees. he says he has struggled mightily to improve his english. >> my first two years i feel lonely because i don't understand english much. but now after four years, i understand english more and people know me more, understand me more, and i express english easier. one person said, "you know, father, maybe you can speak vietnamese with an american accent." >> the parish bookkeeper, susan costello, helps correct his grammar when he writes his sunday homilies, and parish council members presented him with a ping-pong table, so he could take up a pastime many americans enjoy.
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>> his speech when he got here wasn't really good, but every week it gets better, until he gets excited, and then he talks too fast. but we just love him. and he's always happy and smiling, until he gets up on that altar. and then he's all business. >> without father basil, parishioners say they would probably see a priest only once a week, for mass on sundays, and would have to wait longer to schedule baptisms, funerals, and marriages. as it is, father basil is on call 24 hours a day for the people at both his parishes. what are the challenges you've faced in terms of your parishioners? >> first of all, because i'm not american pastor, i'm asian pastor. they to have to train the ear to understand my accent. but i think they accept me. i ask one of them, "did you accept me because i'm a vietnamese, different from your culture?" he said, "i accept you because
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you're a priest. we need priests no matter the nationality." the united states, they need priests, but good priests. because i have background of my faith, my experience about my faith so i can share with them. and they share their faith with me, too. >> but preserving religious traditions from vietnam is also important to these first and second-generation immigrants. the marion days festival draws thousands of teens. this drum group traveled to carthage from san jose, california. many youngsters accompany their grandparents, though they admit they are more likely to speak to them in english than vietnamese. >> i just like the environmnmnm like being all together, getting to praise god as a group, especially uniting with other vietnamese people because i know a lot of times, you know, people don't -- they lose their culture, and they don't join together. >> the priests in carthage worry
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that the rate of vocations eventually will decline among vietnamese families, as it has among americans. boys used to enroll in the seminary here during high school. that's no longer the case, and it's becoming more difficult to attract college-age men. >> last year i didn't get any. but this year i'm blessed enough to have five. so it's just give and take. >> still, the congregation currently has 150 men in the u.s. studying to be priests or brothers, a number that would thrill any other seminary. father tran says he hopes the example of men like father basil, who seem to thrive as priests, will inspire other young people to try religious life. >> i live in wartime in my country. here i feel peace. i feel peace in my heart and my mind. >> for "religion and ethics newsweekly," i'm judy valente, in carthage, missouri. on our calendar this week,
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jews observe yom kippur or the day of atonement, the most solemn day of the jewish calendar. observant jews spend the day in synagogue praying, fasting and repenting. finally, in france, the louvre museum opened a new wing this weekend devoted to islamic art. the galleries cost more than $130 million and took a decade to complete. works from the 7th century through the 19th century are on display. museum officials say the new wing is meant to promote cross cultural understanding. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on smartphones. there's always much more on our website as well. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at as we leave you, scenes from pope benedict xvi's recent trip to lebanon. amid the violent protests in the
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muslim world, the pope spoke of the need to protect religious freedom and for all faiths to ♪ork together to promote peace.
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